Newborn baby photography is a very specialized topic of portraiture. If the baby is your own or belongs to a close friend or family member, you may be looking to grab a few snaps and need a few tips. Or, you may be a professional photographer looking to make a foray into the newborn market.
Whatever the case may be, newborn photography can be both challenging and rewarding. Safety must always be the primary consideration, and poses take special care and attention. Many photographers find that one of the most difficult facets of this sort of photography is dealing with new parents. And while there are not many equipment requirements, you’ll definitely want to be a master of using natural light and off-camera lighting setups.
Here is a comprehensive guide to newborn photography. If you do not have a lot of personal experience with newborns, it's essential that you get some before you begin working with paying clients. It's not as easy as it looks, and confidence and a practiced hand are super important here.
The Number One Rule of Infant Photography: Safety First
Keeping the newborn safe in the studio is trickier than it sounds. Make sure everything happens down low, and that poses are in reclined positions. If the baby should fidget, or roll one way or the other, there shouldn't be any danger or a drop or a fall.
All props that are nearby should be baby-safe. If you don't regularly do newborn shoots in your studio, it's a good idea to do a thorough run-through. Get a doll and find your basic positions and practice lighting and setup. At the same time, look around and make sure there are no backgrounds, lights, or cables around that could be hazardous.
Before the shoot, wash your hands to keep from spreading germs. Sanitize and clean all surfaces where the baby will be posed. Remember, newborns do not yet have a fully developed immune system. If you think you might be getting sick, it's best to reschedule the shoot.
You also want to do a good job of communicating this ethos to your clients. The parents are naturally going to be worried about their precious baby, and making sure they know that the baby’s safety and comfort are your number one priority too will help set their minds at ease.
Styles of Baby Photography
When to do newborn baby photography depends on the type of images your client is after. Lifestyle photos capture interactions and relationships within the family. Memories from these stress-filled and hectic days in the newborn's life are often fuzzy. Since there's a little more flexibility here, timing is less critical, and you can do lifestyle newborn photos at any age.
A posed newborn photoshoot is quite different. Here, the baby is posed to look perfect in a studio setting with cute props and backgrounds. Timing is important; for the best-posed images, newborns must be around two weeks old.
The ideal time frame to conduct the photo shoot is when the baby is between five and ten days old. During this time, infants spend most of their time curled up and sleeping. After the two week mark, they stretch, move about, and generally become much more active. Of course, you can still do a photoshoot, but you will spend more time getting the baby to stay relaxed and calm.
Five Top Newborn Photography Tips
1. Be Flexible
The number one tip for any newborn shoot is to be flexible. Maybe this goes without saying, but the shoot might not go as planned. Sometimes babies will refuse to cooperate and will show you who is really in charge (they are). But if a baby fidgets and refuses to sleep, don't lose your cool and keep shooting. Many times the best images will come from the unplanned and organic moments.
2. Be Confident
Going into the shoot, everyone will pick up on any nervous energy. The first to react will be the parents, who will lose confidence in your ability to pull off the shoot. After the parents, the baby will soon begin to lose comfort. So it is essential that throughout you keep your cool and exhibit confidence. Again, if you are new to photographing newborns, consider gaining some experience before working with clients.
3. Use Aperture Carefully
Many times in portraiture and wedding photography, you are tempted to open your lens to the max. Who doesn't love the bokeh of a wide-open lens? But unfortunately, this technique may get you into trouble with newborns. With many odd angles and reclined positions involved in newborn poses, if you leave your aperture wide open, your depth of field may be insufficient. Keep this in mind, and work a stop or two higher than the lowest f-stop on your lens.
4. Avoid Bright Strobes
Baby-Safe lighting is the name of the game. Most professionals use only natural lighting. This look matches the mood of the images well. With some beautiful filtered light, you can do wonders. In a studio session, you can use speed lights and strobes, but they must be external. Bounce the light or use large diffusers to make it as mellow as possible. Never use pop-up flashes or on-camera setups. Newborns' eyes are sensitive, and if they're sleeping, you don't want to wake them.
5. Keep it Warm
Ok, maybe this is two tips wrapped in one. You'll want to have the thermostat in the house or studio set high, somewhere between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Your goal is to keep the baby warm, especially if the blankets are loose. A space heater is a good idea, too.
But keeping it warm can also mean maintaining a loving and relaxed atmosphere. Make the shoot a fun experience for mom, dad, baby, and you. Be flexible, friendly, and have fun with it.
Newborn Photography Props and Setup
The ideal setup for the photo shoot would be a well-lit and studio-like setting. For this reason, you might want to set up such a space yourself. If you've agreed to shoot in the family's home, you might want to plan your initial meeting and consultation on-site so that you might scout locations. Since you have to minimize strobe use, this will allow you to see the site and work out a lighting plan. Look for big windows and plan the time of day so that the light will be indirect.
Before going into the shoot, you'll want to be prepared with three or four setups and poses that you know the parents will love. Don't plan on many more than this, since the very nature of the photo session is unpredictable.
Remember that the number one rule of infant photography is safety first.
Never plan poses on tables or chairs from which that the baby can fall. Use blankets or a crib mattress on the floor. Even the most settled and calm newborn can wiggle themselves into a dangerous situation in no time, so anything else is just not worth the risk. A small mattress or blankets on the floor can be combined with cloth backdrops to make all the effects you need. Remember, the baby is the start of the show, so there's no reason to go overboard with the setup. Keep the colors neutral, like black, white, or tan.
Be creative with your surroundings and let the newborn take the lead. If you are shooting in the family home, you might be inspired by props around the house. If you're in your studio, you might encourage the family to bring a few special items with them.
Posing the newborn is probably the most daunting part of this type of work. Infants aren't very good at taking direction, and their tiny and delicate bodies must be handled with the utmost care. It's always best to have an assistant or another photographer on hand who has experience working with infants, who can move the baby into other poses without waking them.
The poses you come up will be the result of communication with the parents. They are your clients, after all, and the photos are for them. Have they been inspired by other newborn shots they've seen? What do they like and what do they hate? Are there any themes that are important to the family that can be played upon?
Build-in time to your photoshoot to sit down with the parents and ask questions. Give the adults some coffee and get to know them, and use the time to plan ahead and feel out what sort of photography they're looking for.
When dressing the baby, try to keep it as simple as possible. Simple headbands or caps are perfect, as well as neutral-colored blankets. Flowers add an atmosphere of energy and renewal to the scene, so they are popular props.
A newborn photo shoot takes a bit longer than other types of photography. There will be a lot of time calming the baby down, getting the baby to sleep, feeding baby, or changing baby. There may be breaks for cleanups and messes. If anything, baby photography is unpredictable. Expect the typical shoot to last two or three hours. Also expect the best photos to come in the last 30 minutes of the shoot, once all the kinks are worked out and the baby is relaxed.
Throughout the shoot, don't forget the close-ups. Tiny fingers and tiny toes make for cute photos, and are an absolute must should the parents decide to put together albums. Basic poses for newborns include the baby lying on their back, on their tummy, or with their head propped on their little arms.
Throughout, make sure that the infants head, neck, and back are supported. Don’t force anything, and also don’t sweat it if the baby stretches or moves into a more comfortable position. Comfort and contentedness show well in photos and shouldn’t be ignored.
Even if the family comes in for a posed shoot, with headbands and blankets and all that goes with it, it's still important to include the family. There will be lots of time between shots and poses. Give the family a comfortable (and well lit!) place to relax and cuddle the baby. Just remember to keep shooting! Here you'll get some great interaction shots full of emotion and love.
Involve the Family
Not all newborn photography is posed. Even if you are contracted with the parents to do posed shots, you'll want to keep clicking the shutter during times between poses. Do not look at the time spent comforting or feeding the baby as an intermission for you. It's another opportunity to get another sort of shot.
If mom and dad haven't thought about being in the images, gently suggest that they participate as well. Shots of them holding the baby in poses add drama and love to a portrait that takes it beyond a simple posed shot. It's that interaction that makes it special. Some posed and formal shots of the new parents with the baby will also be popular keepsakes for years to come.
If the baby has siblings, you may also be able to get some beautiful portraits of the kids together. If the newborn has brothers and sisters, keeping them involved in the shoot might prove challenging. Try to get their posed shots out of the way first. Keep in mind that younger kids aren't going to have a long attention span. Let them play and come back at the end if you want to get more lifestyle shots. Whatever you do, don't make them sit there the whole time waiting for their turn because grumpiness and awkward photos will be the result.
Perhaps the handiest of the newborn photography props in your tool kit is the posing bean bag. This cozy place conforms to the baby's body, supporting them safely while holding cute positions for the shoot. They're soft and safe, and photo neutral. Blankets or cloths can cover them, or any other prop you might use during the shoot. In short, they're invaluable!
Equipment Considerations for Baby Photography
Lighting is the most important aspect of equipment when going into a newborn photo shoot. Ideally, natural lighting will present the fewest problems. Above all, remember that an infant's eyes are more sensitive to bright lights and flashes. Don't point a Speedlight right at them.
If your space doesn't have good enough natural lighting, an off-camera strobe setup is a must-have item. You'll still want to diffuse the light somehow, either by bouncing it or using diffusers. Set the flashes to their lowest possible setting to further reduce the strain on the babies eyes.
Lens selection will be the next significant choice you have to make. Ideally, you'll want a portraiture lens with a relatively shallow depth of field. But don't go overboard here, since you will be working at angles not normally found in portraiture. Even if you have a fast lens, don't open it all the way up.
You'll also want a lens with a close focal point, or maybe even a macro lens, for capturing details like baby fingers and toes.
Beyond these simple items from your camera bag, everything else you will need will be baby specific. A small space heater is handy to keep the space warm and cozy.
Many photographers also invest in a white noise machine to cover up the loud clicks of the camera shutter. Soft music may also work, but the white noise machine will be completely neutral and will do the job nicely. Some photographers just get a space heater that makes a bit of noise.
As mentioned above, a posing bean bag is an excellent piece of kit. This goes along with everything else you might want in your setup, including props and backgrounds. Another option is a simple crib mattress that you can put on the studio floor.
Before setting out, consider working up an inspiration board. Learn from what others have done and get some new ideas. Be creative and look for fun photos you wouldn't have tried otherwise. Of course, your clients may provide some props as well that are family-specific, but it's a good idea to come prepared with a few winners of your own.
Baby photography may be more challenging than most other forms of photography, but it's totally worth it. Getting to capture such hope and love, from the baby but also from their family, is a wonderful experience. You know your photos will become some of the most cherished keepsakes that the family owns.
Have a look at some inspiring portfolios of Newborn and Family Photographers. These photographers have made excellent use of Pixpa, an easy to use website builder to showcase their photos. You can draw inspiration from these creative professionals and study their portfolios, to get a clearer idea of how you want to showcase your repertoire of work.
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The newborn photography tips here are really only a starting point. Once you begin doing newborn baby photography, you will learn far more from the experience. Much like wedding photography, infant photoshoots are about personal relationships and capturing the emotion of the scene. The best photographers never lose sight of that.
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